Local community colleges, universities planning for fall in face of COVID-19

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While many are looking to get back to business, students are focusing on going back to school.

The fall may be months away, but planning for college takes time. We looked into what colleges are doing to adapt to their future post pandemic.

Metropolitan Community College Chancellor Kimberly Beatty said her school known for trade learning moved entirely online for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester.

“It was really amazing to see that we just kind of went ‘boom’ and pivoted, just pivoted quickly to accommodate the need,” Beatty said.

Community colleges offer gap-year learning 

MCC and Johnson County Community College are booth looking to expand online. JCCC said their focus headed into the fall will primarily be online courses.

“All courses that can be offered in either a virtual (such as Zoom-led course) or online (traditional online, self-paced) format,” said Chris Gray, a representative for the college.

Johnson County Community College

“The campus will plan to be open for courses in the fall that require a high hands-on component; however, we will be looking to lower the number of enrollees in each section of those classes or to modify meeting patterns to ensure that we can still observe the social distancing requirements that we have been told will still be in place potentially in some fashion throughout the semester.”

Beatty said she’s heard some students may choose to do a gap year during this time and complete general education classes at a junior college like MCC or JCCC.

She believes this is a great opportunity for students who would prefer to live at home or save money until things level out.

“We have a what we call a core 42, where students take those general education classes with us and they transfer anywhere in the state,” Beatty said. “And this gives an opportunity for students, especially during this crisis, to stay local, get the education that they need and transfer.”

Metropolitan Community College

Even getting transferable credits at UMKC is an option for many students.

Dr. Jennifer Lundgren, provost and executive vice chancellor at University of Missouri-Kansas City, said they hope their school can be an option for many students who would prefer to be closer to home.

“I think the the benefit of UMKC in that is that there are so many people from the Kansas City metro region that we are close to home,” Lundgren said.

“And so we are really encouraging students who maybe are considering a gap year before they go away to go ahead and get started at UMKC get some of those general education courses under their under their belt.”

Private universities move online

Private universities like Park, Avila and Rockhurst are also transitioning to a more online format. Moving toward the fall semester, more classes for Park and Avila will be available online.

Greg Gunderson, president of Park University, said their online learning program has been around longer than Google.

“We’ve been online for 25 years now,” Gunderson said. “And so for Park University, this spring was an exercise in systems that we’re used to using, and we went 100% online for all of our students.”

Park University

Ron Slepitza, president of Avila University, said they are doing everything they can to be proactive during this time, including moving not only their classes but also their services online.

“We’ve shifted everything to online instruction, online advising, online counseling, online working with mentors — all of that thing to enable our students to be successful,” Slepitza said.

“We are working to implement the student portion of the CARES Act, federal step stimulus so that we can get money into the hands of students who have been inconvenienced or in many cases seriously put in jeopardy because of the COVID-19.”

Rockhurst University delayed their summer and fall enrollment by one week according to their website and are completing their spring classes through Zoom.

Gunderson and Slepitza said they are both planning for this fall and making sure there are multiple plans in place.

Avila University

“We’re really trying to anticipate a future that is not yet determined,” Slepitza said. “And so what will the fall look like? I don’t know. And we’ll have to plan for a variety of different scenarios. But where we won’t know probably until just before that.”

“We’re all different institutions, but we all work together,” Gunderson said. “And so you’re going to find a very collaborative environment, where we’re all trying to do the same thing — get students to be successful.”

Higher education adapts to post-pandemic possibilities

UMKC, Mizzou and KU are hoping for the best. At this point, each university is planning to resume regular classes, on campus, in the fall.

However, the universities realize that may not be reality.

Lundgren, at University of Missouri-Kansas City, said coming back to school will be different. They plan on using social distancing guidelines and hope students can have the college experience they’re hoping for.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City

“We don’t know at any point we might have to go back to a shelter in place situation,” Lundgren said. “So we need to be able to pivot and be online ready. And so that means building in activities and lectures so that they can be face-to-face, or they can be online as needed.”

The University of Missouri in Columbia said it’s not going to have students come back to campus without a plan for them to be safe. In the meantime, the university is keeping an eye on things as time passes to make sure they are being proactive.

The University of Missouri

The University of Kansas did not respond to a request for an interview, but posted online that they are “working with health officials and emergency management organizations to respond to evolving circumstances.”

The school has a website to assist faculty, students, and teachers for online teaching, studying, and support.

Safety and social distancing on campus

From junior colleges, to private and public universities — all are looking at how they’ve done business as usual and are finding new ways to function.

All colleges expressed they’re going to adhere to CDC guidelines and social distancing.

For classes that have to be held in person, or for individuals that have to be on campus, masks will be an expectation. Some schools mentioned they will try to provide them to students, along with increased hand sanitizer stations around campuses.

“If we have to lower [class sizes] because it’s a small room to 10 students, well, that has an impact on how we would do business as well,” Beatty said. “But we’re looking at furniture. We want to make sure we have the sanitizer stations all through for the summer where we have those small labs and exhibiting social distancing.”

The University of Kansas

“A classroom that might have had 24 in it may have 10 in it. In order to meet this distancing guidelines, a lab that might have had 24 might be eight or 10,” Slepitza said.

“Now for us, normally, our big most of our classrooms are 24 or less people. For our residence hall, it may mean that we’ll have to be in single room occupancy and adjust to that because that’s probably going to be with us for a while.”

Housing poses many questions for all universities that offer the service to students.

Those who do say they will be working with city and health leadership to ensure that students have a safe place to live while they are on campus.

“We’re considering all of those factors, and we will be guided by health health officials and whatever best practices at that point in time … whatever advice they give us,” Lundgren said. “So we want to make sure that we’re keeping the students safe and keeping staff and faculty safe.”

A representative from the University of Missouri in Columbia said they are working to not only make sure dorms are safe, but also look at options in case a student or a group of students need to be quarantined in an emergency.

All the educators hope no matter where each student finds themselves, that they are in a place where they don’t give up.

Whether you attend junior college, one closer to home, or far away, you keep going.

“Don’t stop out don’t end your academic career,” Gunderson said. “Now it’s easy to take a semester off. It’s hard to restart. And so I would challenge our students to stay engaged in their education and keep moving forward.”

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